Former D-Leaguers-turned-NBAers Steve Novak and Mike Taylor aren’t quite ready to give up playing pro ball here in the States, and are looking to start again from square one. Scott Schroeder of NBA FanHouse has reported that both Novak and Taylor have signed contracts to return to the D-League in an effort to showcase their talents for NBA clubs. According to Schroeder, Novak will join the Reno Bighorns, and Taylor will be a member of the Iowa Energy.
Novak can shoot like an NBA player, but doesn’t really look, move, or defend like one. He’s a specialist, and in the right defensive system, his teammates might be able to cover his back in a pinch. Novak spent most of this season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, albeit one who wasn’t able to crack the rotation, even for clean-up minutes. A club desperate for range might be willing to pick him up, but Novak hurts his chances with his lack of versatility. He isn’t a hustle player, or even a glue guy, really. He doesn’t fill in the gaps. He just shoots, and does so almost exclusively from long range. Nothing wrong with that for a team in the market, but NBA teams so rarely peruse the D-League marketplace for standstill shooters.
Taylor isn’t quite as limited, but he’s a 6-2 athlete with more utility as a scorer than as a playmaker. During his year with the Clippers in 2009, Taylor was at his best either driving or slashing to the rim, though his drive-and-kick potential is rather limited. In Taylor, teams may find a decent bench scorer who can handle the ball a bit, but it’s probably better for everyone involved if he’s not initiating offensive sets.
The D-League Showcase is in the books, and while Larry Owens was the first NBA call-up following the conclusion of the Showcase, more are sure to follow. Additionally, those who don’t see an NBA opening as imminent may take on more lucrative contract elsewhere, as the D-League currently offers only a meager paycheck.
Case(s) in-point: Maine’s Paul Harris and Reno’s D.J. Strawberry (formerly of the Phoenix Suns), both of whom have skipped out on the D to generate some additional income. From Scott Schroeder of NBA FanHouse:
Already this week, Maine Red Claws wing Paul Harris and Reno Bighorns guard D.J. Strawberry…have bought out their D-League contracts — a fee of $35,000 to $45,000 depending on the type of contract they signed — to play for larger salaries in the Philippines and Lithuania, respectively. While an NBA call-up was surely on both players’ minds going into the season, the fact that both were relegated to sixth-man duty thus far in the D-League caused them to seek a steadier income. After all, during a season that’s currently on pace for the least amount of call-ups all time, it’d be quite the feat to make the NBA after not even earning starter’s minutes in the D-League.
That last point is a particularly important one. There isn’t room for every prospect to get a proper chance to showcase their abilities in the D-League, particularly if teams are stacked at certain positions. Just like in the NBA or in any other league, there are minute crunches and system issues that would preclude even the more capable prospects from really demonstrating their abilities. As useful as the D-League is for players and teams alike, it’s not some magical fantasy land where every prospect and assignee can frolick through fields and gobble up minutes by the handful. As is the case with any team, someone has to start, and someone has to sit on the bench.
It’s not likely that NBA teams would target D-League reserves to be called up, which puts players like Harris and Strawberry — both sixth men, as Schroeder noted — in a peculiar situation. The D-League may be the best avenue to the NBA, but if a starting spot isn’t within grasp then players may be better served cashing in for any team willing to pay them top dollar…even if in Harris’ case it’s the “Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters.”
Tonight’s D-League draft features a deeper talent pool than ever, and according to Scott Schroeder of NBA FanHouse, former Mavericks second round pick Nick Fazekas will be the first player selected overall. The Reno Bighorns, coached by former NBAer Eric Musselman, own the No. 1 pick, and will add Fazekas to an already talented group of quasi-NBA players including Donald Sloan, Patrick Ewing Jr., and Marcus Landry.
As Schroeder notes in his report, Fazekas has played in France and Belgium since being cut loose by both the Mavs and the Clippers, but returns a rather coveted prospect. Though Fazekas’ NBA draft stock was never all that high, his D-League profile is perhaps better paralleled by his résumé of statistical projections. Coming out of Nevada, Fazekas was highly touted by John Hollinger’s pre-draft player rater for ESPN.com Insider (which ranked Fazekas as the 7th best prospect in the 2007 draft, just behind Al Horford), and even after a year in the league, Dave Berri (of Wages of Wins fame) continued to sing Fazekas’ praises as a legitimate NBA player. It’s hard to say where exactly Fazekas’ game is now after being removed from NBA competition for a spell, but he was already an interesting prospect before jumping across the pond, and is that and then some as he tops the D-League’s draft board.
Talk to former NBA coach Eric Musselman and this much becomes clear — he loves basketball. Loves talking about it. Loves coaching it.
And he’s going to get to do what he loves in the D-League next season with the Reno Bighorns, according to Scott Schroeder of FanHouse. Reno just a short drive from Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so not a bad spot to land.
Musselman had conversations with a few teams this summer about an assistant coaching job, but nothing ever rose to the level of serious. So he has decided instead to go the route of former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and return to the D-League to hone his craft.
However, this landing spot is a bit interesting because Reno is the D-League team for the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors — the two teams Musselman coached in the NBA, on his way to a 108-138 record over three seasons.
In Sacramento, Musselman’s credibility was undercut by a DUI before the first practice, and from them on the team seemed to lack a real direction and understanding of what it was trying to do. Brad Miller (a solid veteran) said he didn’t understand his role, and that was 50 games into a season. The Kings let Musselman go after one season (then hired Reggie Theus, which exacerbated their problems, but that’s another story).
Musselman was the color commentator on Versus for D-League games last season, so he has some understanding of the league. He also understands that while winning matters, player development is the real reason for the league. Golden State in particular loves to snatch up D-League players and watches the entire league closely.
If he does a good job here, Musselman could find his way back to the NBA (almost certainly as an assistant at first).